WASHINGTON, March 12, 2009 - The commander of U.S. Central Command last night praised the Army medics and Navy corpsmen whose courage on the battlefield protects the lives of fellow servicemembers.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus told the 400-person audience at the 3rd Annual Armed Services YMCA Gala here that he was an appropriate keynote speaker, given that he's survived two near-fatal injuries.

"Some out there may wonder what my qualifications are to offer assessments of our medics," he said. "The fact is I'm quite well qualified on the subject, having twice awakened to the caring eyes of an angel on the battlefield following life-threatening injuries."

Petraeus' most recent injury occurred in 2000 when his parachute collapsed at low altitude during a skydiving jump. The snafu caused a hard landing that broke his pelvis. Nine years earlier, Petraeus was wounded by friendly fire in a live-fire training accident while commanding the 3rd Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Ky.

In an odd twist of fate, the surgeon who treated Petraeus' gunshot wound at Vanderbilt University in Nashville was Dr. Bill Frist, who later became the U.S. Senate majority leader. Frist joined Petraeus on stage at the gala.

"We are tied together in a single garment of destiny," Frist said, quoting Martin Luther King Jr. "What affects one individually, affects all of us indirectly.

"You are that garment of destiny," he told the medics and corpsmen. "Thank you for being that angel to us all."

Petraeus said his simple, yet hugely important, task during the event was to thank combat medical personnel -- in particular, the troops accepting awards on behalf of their respective services.

"Wherever they serve, they always exhibit extraordinary qualities, skill, courage, cool under pressure, and selflessness," Petraeus said. "Tonight, we recognize and thank them, the angels of the battlefield, for all that they've done, and all that they continue to do for their fellow Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, and for our great country."

Those who received awards last night were Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Waiters, Air Force Staff Sgt. Stephanie Cates, Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class William Jordan, Navy Seaman Apprentice Thomas Geary, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Ryals, Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Sarah Hanson, Air National Guard Master Sgt. Marty Snider and Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Matthew Lavoie.

Lavoie encountered frequent attacks as an Army medic deployed to Iraq with the 172nd Infantry of the Rhode Island Army National Guard. In 2006, while traveling near Al Asad Air Base, his convoy encountered multiple improvised explosive device attacks.

"Numerous vehicles were hit; we had one rollover," he recalled. "We evacuated two U.S. Soldiers, and the rest of them had superficial wounds. We were down for probably two hours." Asked what his role was during the ambush, he said: "I was the only medic there."

Lavoie said being honored at the event was "surreal."

"The truth is, I do what I do every day for 10 years to be able to help somebody," he said. "It's about more than just me."